Summer is winding down, Labor Day has come and passed, and the National Football League is set to begin their season on time despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Other sports leagues had to drastically alter their schedules to accommodate for the unique circumstances, but besides cancelling the preseason and most stadiums playing without fans, the NFL’s season will go on as planned.
No preseason means no time for offenses and defense to adjust to live competition prior to the season. The result will likely be sloppy play in the first few weeks of the season, especially for teams experiencing major changes in players personnel or coaching staff.
Last season I was 100-62-1 through Week 11, correctly predicting 62% of the games I picked. My goals this season are to improve upon that number, as well as to actually finish out the season making weekly picks for all 17 weeks.
Be sure to also check out my full 2020-21 NFL Predictions as well for my guesses on the full standings, playoff teams, and Super Bowl matchup.
Thursday Night Football
Houston Texans (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)
Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-9.0)
As per tradition, the defending Super Bowl champions will open up the season with a Thursday Night Football game in early September. The Kansas City Chiefs retained an astounding 20 of their 22 starting players from last year, and made Patrick Mahomes the richest quarterback in NFL history.
The Texans last took the field in January against the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round. Houston built a quick 24-0 lead over Kansas City before Mahomes led seven-straight scoring drives for a wild 51-31 Chiefs victory.
This will be the first game Houston plays in the post-Deandre Hopkins era after trading the stud wide receiver to the Arizona Cardinals.
I still think the Texans will be competitive, and they’re my pick to win the AFC South. I don’t think this game will be a blowout, as the Chiefs will need a little time before they’re churning out 40-50 point games with ease. So on opening night, while I’ll pick the home team with best roster in the league, I’ll also give the Texans the benefit of the doubt to cover the 9.0-point spread.
Chiefs win 31-23, Texans win ATS
Sunday Day Games
Seattle Seahawks (0-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-0)
Line: Seattle Seahawks (-1.5)
Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks will be back in 2020, after a disappointing first-round loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in last season’s playoffs. While Wilson has played with more complete rosters in his career, his current team is still equipped to make noise. Specifically, the addition of Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams should make the defense even stronger.
The Atlanta Falcons had a down year in 2019 across the board. Matt Ryan did play well, when his offensive line could keep him upright. Ryan still has Julio Jones, a top tier offensive weapon, as well as the newly acquired Todd Gurley.
While the Falcons shouldn’t be a pushover in Week 1, I don’t see the offense clicking early enough to overcome a stout Seattle defense.
Seahawks win 23-20, Seahawks win ATS
New York Jets (0-0) at Buffalo Bills (0-0)
Line: Buffalo Bills (-6.5)
The New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins should all be playing with an extra glimmer of hope and motivation this season, knowing Tom Brady has left the AFC East and the New England Patriots may be vulnerable. By all measures, the Bills are the most-equipped team to make the leap to division champion.
Sam Darnold and the Jets had a strong second half in 2019, quietly finishing with a solid 7-9 record. They would have been in line for an improvement this season; but trading away defensive superstar and captain Jamal Adams leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can only imagine how it affected morale on the defensive side of the locker room.
So while the Jets won’t be terrible, losing their defensive ace leaves a hole that will be very noticeable to start this season.
Bills win 24-13, Bills win ATS
Chicago Bears (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)
Line: Detroit Lions (-3.0)
The third and fourth place finishers in the NFC North last season square off in Week 1. But make no mistake, there’s a big gap in the talent levels of these rosters. Chicago finished 8-8, just two games behind the NFC’s sixth seed, and allowed just 298 points, the best mark in the NFC and fourth-best in the NFL.
Detroit managed to turn a surprising 2-0-1 start last season into an abysmal 3-12-1 finish. Adding former MVP Adrian Peterson at running back won’t turn things around for the Lions.
Despite support for Nick Foles to be the starter in Chicago, the inconsistent Mitch Trubisky gets the nod in Week 1. At his best, he’s an above average NFL starter. At his worst, he can lay claim to being one of the NFL’s worst full-time starters. On average, Chicago gets something inbetween.
The Bears defense, however, will keep them in almost any game they play this season. Against the Lions, even on the road, Chicago comes out with a 1-0 record.
Bears win 17-16, Bears win ATS
Green Bay Packers (0-0) at Minnesota Vikings (0-0)
Line: Minnesota Vikings (-3.0)
Last season, I predicted the Packers to finish 8-8. They shattered my expectations, posting a 13-3 record and earning the NFC’s second seed. This season, I once again projected them to go 8-8. Though last season was a very strong one, I can’t shake the feeling that the end is coming sooner than later in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers will turn 37 this year, and although Tom Brady and Drew Brees are still producing at elite levels, there’s no guarantee Rodgers will do the same in the twilight of his career. He’s also taken more of a beating at the quarterback position than some of his peers, and relies on physical attributes such as arm strength and mobility more than Brady and Brees.
The Packers reached the NFC Championship Game last season, but instead of using their first round draft pick on a player who could put them over the top, they wasted the pick on a quarterback, Jordan Love. I see the irony in calling this pick “wasted,” as the Rodgers sit-and-learn experiment worked out very well for the Packers. But in today’s NFL, with mobile college studs succeeding in the NFL left and right, the franchise essentially punted away a chance to win the Super Bowl in the near future.
Kirk Cousins may not be the elite quarterback his massive contract suggests, but Minnesota’s roster is stacked on both offense and defense. The Vikings, my pick to win the NFC North, set the tone early with a Week 1 victory.
Vikings win 27-20, Vikings win ATS
Miami Dolphins (0-0) at New England Patriots (0-0)
Line: New England Patriots (-6.5)
One of the most interesting things to watch for in Week 1 is how the New England Patriots will look without Tom Brady as the opening day starter for the first time in 18 years. Bill Belichick now has former MVP Cam Newton under center, and while he struggled later in his Carolina Panthers career, there’s reason to believe a new situation and future Hall of Fame coach could revitalize his career.
Newton doesn’t have to be prime Tom Brady for the Patriots to succeed, as Belichick’s gameplan and New England’s defense can often overpower opponents without much flashy offense. This season, some key defensive starters have opted out for Patriots, so the defense may not be as stout as years past. Still, with stability at head coach and a winning culture in New England, it’s hard to see the Patriots falling off much even without Brady.
The Patriots handle a relatively easy opponent, Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Miami Dolphins, in Week 1.
Patriots win 24-13, Patriots win ATS
Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Washington Football Team (0-0)
Line: Philadelphia Eagles (-6.0)
Carson Wentz looks to stay healthy in 2020 and bring the Philadelphia Eagles back to the playoffs. The Eagles, on paper, are locked and loaded to make another run atop the NFC East in my 2020-21 predictions.
Washington Football Team just has too much working against them (including off-season drama and scandals surrounding the franchise’s name and front office culture, an inexperienced quarterback in Dwayne Haskins, and holes on both the offensive and defensive sides of the roster) to expect a strong performance in Week 1. It will be exciting to see second overall pick Chase Young making his NFL debut, but that could be the lone bright spot for Washington in their home opener.
Eagles win 33-13, Eagles win ATS
Las Vegas Raiders (0-0) at Carolina Panthers (0-0)
Line: Las Vegas Raiders (-3.0)
The Raiders clawed their way to a 7-9 finish in 2019, in their first year under head coach Jon Gruden. With a new stadium in Las Vegas, the Raiders look to find some consistency in 2020.
The Carolina Panthers have moved on from Cam Newton, the quarterback that led them to Super Bowl 50 (a loss to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.) Instead of keeping Kyle Allen (who had up-and-down results in 2019,) Carolina turns to Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback.
Bridgewater was great for the New Orleans Saints in relief of the injured Drew Brees, but with no preseason or live opponents to work off, there could be growing pains inserting him into he Panthers offense.
Then again, new head coach Matt Rhule couldn’t go wrong handing the ball off to Christian McCaffrey, the league’s highest-paid running back.
I do think the Raiders will win though, as Derek Carr will be a little more comfortable in the Raiders offense, with some new weapons at his disposal to boot.
Raiders win 17-10
Cleveland Brows (0-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
Line: Baltimore Ravens (-8.0)
The Browns were just one of to two teams to hand the Ravens a regular season loss in 2019. But after closing the regular season as a well-oiled machine (albeit with a disappointing first-round playoff loss,) the Ravens are poised to dominate again in 2020.
Cleveland could improve in Baker Mayfield’s third season, and could be a darkhorse candidate for a wildcard position. But Lamar Jackson, who was already crowned the league’s MVP in his second season, still has something to prove. He’s not losing to the Browns, at home, in Week 1.
Ravens win 27-17, Ravens win ATS
Indianapolis Colts (0-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)
Line: Indianapolis Colts (-8.0)
As mentioned with Teddy Bridgewater in Carolina, inserting a new quarterback without a preseason could lead to a slow start in Week 1. Philip Rivers takes over as the Colts quarterback after 14 seasons with the Chargers franchise.
Jacoby Brissett was a fine starter for Indianapolis in 2019, and while Rivers doesn’t represent a huge upgrade in talent, he definitely shouldn’t make the Colts any worse.
While the Colts could start out slow with the new signal-caller, they face what could be one of the NFL’s worst teams in 2020: the Jacksonville Jaguars. Though Gardner Minshew will start at quarterback, many players, including running back Leonard Fournette, will be gone from a team that already finished last in the AFC South.
Jaguars as 8-point underdogs could potentially be a good bet to cover the spread if this game is low scoring. But I think the Colts will find a way to beat this gutted Jaguars roster.
Colts win 17-10, Jaguars win ATS
Los Angeles Chargers (0-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-0)
Line: Los Angeles Chargers (-3.0)
So about that starting slow with a new quarterback at the helm? While Tyrod Taylor spent last season as Philip Rivers’ backup for the Chargers, Week 1 will be his first start for Los Angeles.
On the opposite side is first overall pick Joe Burrow for the Cincinnati Bengals. But unfortunately for Burrow, the Bengals weren’t all that good last year, finishing 2-14 even with mostly decent play from veteran Andy Dalton. Burrow does get the services of A.J. Green at wide receiver, after the Pro Bowler missed much of the 2019 season.
The Chargers may not have been much better, at 5-11, but Los Angeles ultimately has the more talented roster. Burrow can’t pull off a win in his NFL debut. The first overall pick is the only rookie scheduled to start in Week 1.
Chargers win 23-16, Chargers win ATS
GAME OF THE WEEK: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0) at New Orleans Saints (0-0)
Line: New Orleans Saints (-3.5)
This year I’m designating the top game to watch each week, and for Week 1 that’s easily Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking on Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. All eyes will be on Brady, Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy, Leonard Fournette, Mike Evans (who may miss this matchup,) Chris Godwin, and the Buccaneers offense, as fans wonder how Brady will fare on a new team.
The Saints haven’t had the most encouraging playoff results as of late, but they’re a regular season powerhouse. Between Brees and a few starts from Teddy Bridgewater, the Saints finished 13-3 in 2019. They’re the favorites to win the NFC South again, but Brady’s Buccaneers represent a new and unique threat.
But in this instance, once again, I don’t expect the new quarterback to shine in his first game with a new team, especially without a preseason to work off. I don’t think the Buccaneers will be a pushover in this game, but I see the Saints pulling away in the second half.
Saints win 24-17, Saints win ATS
Arizona Cardinals (0-0) at San Francisco 49ers (0-0)
Line: San Francisco 49ers (-7.0)
The Arizona Cardinals are one of my team to watch out for in 2020. They improved almost every week under Kyler Murray in 2019, so an improvement on their 5-10-1 record from last season should be expected. Another reason to expect improvement is the addition of star wide receiver Deandre Hopkins, playing alongside Larry Fitgerald as the Arizona wideout continues his Hall of Fame career.
The ceiling for the Cardinals this year is probably a wildcard, as they play in a super competitive NFC West. Can Arizona compete with Seattle and San Francisco? On a season-long basis, probably not. But on a game-by-game basis, the Cardinals could beat any of their division rivals.
However, in Week 1, I’m taking the team that went 13-3 last season, and then 2-1 in the playoffs for a total record of 15-4. San Francisco is a hard team to beat, and while I like the Cardinals this season, they won’t be clicking on offense in Week 1.
49ers win 27-16, 49ers win ATS
Sunday Night Football
Dallas Cowboys (0-0) at Los Angeles Rams (0-0)
Line: Dallas Cowboys (-3.0)
The Dallas Cowboys (8-8) and Los Angeles Rams (9-7) just missed out on the postseason in 2019. If there were seven wildcard spots, as there are now, the Rams would have qualified, and the Cowboys would’ve been just a game behind. Both teams look to make the leap back into the playoffs this season, starting with a Sunday night matchup in Los Angeles.
I’m higher on the Cowboys, who have a solid quarterback, elite running back, some offensive weapons, and a solid defense. I think Dallas can play with anyone, they just didn’t do it consistently enough in 2019.
I’m not super high on the Rams, who may struggle to find their identity without Todd Gurley at running back. Though the Rams are only two seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and still posses an above-average defense, I could see Los Angeles falling behind in the NFC West in 2020.
This game really could go either way, but my gut feeling is that Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are going to come away with the victory.
Cowboys win 17-14, PUSH ATS
Monday Night Football (Doubleheader)
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0)
Line: Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5)
After a carousel season at the quarterback position, the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to finish 8-8 last year, good for second place in the AFC North. With Ben Roethlisberger back in the starting role, Steelers fans are optimistic for a better season in 2020.
However, I don’t see Roethlisberger, at 38 years old, putting this Pittsburgh team on his back.
On the other side is a New York Giant squad that could absolutely hit-or-miss this season. If all goes right in Joe Judge’s first year as head coach and Daniel Jones’ second season at quarterback, the Giants could squeeze into the playoffs at 10-6 or 9-7. But if Judge can’t establish a winning culture, the defense can’t build an identity, and Jones continues to turn the ball over at a high rate, the Giants could finish as low as 4-12, their record in 2019.
I’m buying in on Judge’s Giants and selling on Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Danny Dimes, Saquon Barkley, and the Giants offense pull off a Week 1 upset over the Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Giants win 20-16, Giants win ATS
Tennessee Titans (0-0) at Denver Broncos (0-0)
Line: Tennessee Titans (-1.5)
The Tennessee Titans are riding high after an unlikely AFC Championship Game run last season. Solid efforts from Ryan Tannehill, a punishing running game led by Derrick Henry, and a good defense nearly carried the Titans to the Super Bowl.
While the Denver Broncos finished 7-9 in 2019, quarterback Drew Lock was 4-1 as a starter in he second half of the season. Denver looks to keep up their hot play with Lock, but suffered a defensive blow with linebacker Von Miller expected to miss the rest of the season.
Even without fans, Denver is a tough environment to play in. Still, I think the reloaded Titans will start their season off with a road victory in the late slot of Monday Night Football’s doubleheader.
Titans win 17-13, Titans win ATS
Header Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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